After looking astonishingly competent in a win at miserable Cremonese over the weekend, Fiorentina have an entirely different challenge in the midweek: hang onto the slender lead it built in the first leg against Sivasspor. That’s literally a tall order, as the Yigidos’ arenas is tucked into the Taurus Mountains at an elevation of 1300 m/4275 ft, and necessitates a 2800 km/1780 mi journey from Florence into central Turkey.
The referee for this one is 41-year-old Nikola Dabanović of Montenegro. In 26 total appearances this year, he’s handed out 119 yellow cards, 6 red cards, and 8 penalties; in a match that could be very rugged, don’t be surprised if he’s kept quite busy. He’s reffed 2 previous matches featuring Serie A teams, with the Italians winning once and losing once.
The match will be played on Thursday, 16 March 2023, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the New Sivas 4 Eylül Stadium in Sivas, Turkey. While it won’t get cold enough for snow, there could be some rain, and the wind might be quite blustery. That shouldn’t dampen the fans’ spirits: Sivasspor are providing free tickets to supporters in an effort to fill the stands and create a menacing atmosphere for the Viola and the 20-odd supporters who are expected to make the trip.
The Yigidos’ difficult season continues, as they lost 3-0 at İstanbulspor at the weekend. That leaves them in in 15th and even on points with none other than İstanbulspor for the final relegation place. That makes it 3 straight losses in all competitions for a squad that’s starting to look a bit frail, although you can’t blame them for not being as focused as they could right now: even a month out from the horrific earthquake that struck Turkey, aftershocks continue, including a 4.7 magnitude one yesterday in Kahramanmaraş, 300 km/185 mi south of Sivas.
Manager Rıza Çalımbay won’t have CB Caner Osmanpaşa, DM Robin Yalçın, or LW Max-Alain Gradel. Expect the usual 4-3-3ish shape with Jordy Caicedo leading the line and chasing every lost cause, with Samu Saíz and Erdoğan Yeşilyurt flanking him. Çalımbay rotated his side pretty heavily against İstanbulspor so we should see a pretty similar lineup to the one we saw last week, minus Gradel.
Çalımbay and company are in a tricky spot here: they need to score but can’t leave themselves open for Fiorentina to grab a second, and they’re missing their top two scorers in Gradel and Mustapha Yatabaré. Expect them to focus more on intensity than any surprise tactics. That’ll mean hard challenges and non-stop running in addition to their usual desire to play a very direct style. Fiorentina will likely try to take them out of rhythm by slowing down the game and neutralizing the crowd, especially at the start, then hit on the break against an increasingly desperate opponent.
Things look as rosy for Fiorentina as they do dreary for Sivasspor. The Viola are on a remarkable run of 7 straight unbeaten and 5 straight wins, propelling themselves into 11th place and maybe even eying a 7th-place finish if everything breaks right. Of course, the Conference League and the Coppa Italia remain the top priorities, as this team has a pretty good chance to add some silverware to the cabinet for the first time since 2021 so long as it doesn’t get distracted.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have LB Cristiano Biraghi or LB Aleksa Terzić, so Luca Ranieri will step into the XI. He has some decisions to make all across the pitch, particularly at striker, in central midfield, and on the wing. The main question, though, is if he’ll play a double pivot in midfield with a 10 ahead, or opt for a regista with two mezzale. Pietro Terracciano is back in the squad and should take over the gloves from Salvatore Sirigu.
While Sivasspor will probably come hurtling headlong out the gate, Fiorentina will want to take the sting out of things. Expect a focus on ball retention in midfield, although any chance to grab a second goal and put this to bed should be taken with both hands. With Ranieri lacking Biraghi’s technique and Terzić’s athleticism, expect him to sit deeper, which could change the team’s approach significantly in other areas as well.
How to watch
TV: Probably not. Check the international television listings to be sure, but make plans to stream it.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The oddsmakers mostly have Fiorentina as the favorite despite being so far from home, largely based on the dominance in the first leg, the sparkling form, the general strength of the squad, and the absence of Sivasspor’s top scorers. As the Italians only need a draw, they’ll be better placed to sit off and pick their spots as the Turks throw numbers forward. The only stumbling block is the intensity that Sivasspor could bring, especially with their backs against the wall and in front of a hyped-up crowd.
Still, I’ll take Fiorentina to finish the job here, winning 0-2. With Gradel and Yatabaré, there aren’t a lot of goalscorers available for Sivasspor, so for all their huffing and puffing, they’ll likely lack that cutting edge. They’ll come out like gangbusters and pin Fiorentina deep, but that’s where this pacy Viola attack is at its best. I’m calling for an Ikoné solo goal as he runs half the pitch and a late Jović strike to settle a physical, choppy game.